Well, no one can really say they are surprised by this development.
As expected, the Canadian federal government has denied the Raptors’ request for a special exemption to host NBA opponents from across the border for home games at Scotiabank Arena, while border restrictions protecting the public from further spread of the coronavirus remain in place.
What it means for the Raps is they will move their entire operation south to Tampa, for at least the time being.
Fortunately for the Raptors, they were prepared for this news. They have been combing over potential sites since the league announced its start date, all the while hoping to convince the government they could host games safely in Toronto with no risk to the general public.
“The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial, and federal level to secure a plan that would permit us to play our 2010-21 season on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena,” Raptors team president Masai Ujiri said in a release. “These conversations were productive, and we found strong support of the protocols we put forward. Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Fla.”
The idea of convincing elected officials to make an exception for the Raptors seemed like a pipe dream from the beginning and more so once the COVID numbers began creeping up again in the past month or so.
Raptors GM Bobby Webster told reporters earlier this week that he and his staff had been putting in exhausting hours weighing their options for a temporary home in the event the Canadian government took this stance.
Among the places explored in addition to Tampa were Nashville, Kansas City and even New Jersey.
Webster said the team was weighing several factors as it tried to nail down what he referred to then as a ‘Plan B’ home for the team.
“The players? What does the practice facility look like? What would be the accommodations around the medical facilities, the medical treatment?” Webster said.
“Obviously, you need to have an arena that fits NBA standards. There’s a ton of broadcast issues. There’s health and safety. There’s availability for arena dates.
“And then, you know, lifestyle matters. I think at some point we’re asking people here to uproot their lives and go to a place that they may potentially be away from their families for six to seven months. So, I think we want to be respectful of that, and we want people to feel like we’re going somewhere where we feel safe and they feel like they can settle in.”
While in Tampa the team will play out of Amalie Arena, home to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Raptors have yet to officially announce where they will hold training camp, but it will be in the immediate Tampa area. One report late Thursday from Sportsnet had the team training camp being hosted by Saint Leo University just north of Tampa at the Marion Bowman Activities Center. An announcement is expected early next week.
The fact that the Raptors will start the season playing from Tampa does not necessarily mean they will finish there, however.
The league is planning to release the schedule in two parts with a natural break on March 4. Webster said the team would not rule out a return to Toronto for the remainder of the schedule at that point — dependent, of course, on the situation with the pandemic and where the government was in terms of border closures.
“They say absence makes the heart grow fonder,” Ujiri wrote in his release. “I’m not sure that’s possible for us.”
FREE AGENCY STARTS SLOW
Normally when NBA free agency opens, it does so with a bang. Not so much this year. Officially the deals aren’t announced until Sunday but that has never stopped the leaks and announcements in the past.
It’s no surprise that in 2020, the pandemic year, things are unfolding at a different pace.
There was no immediate news on the Fred VanVleet or Serge Ibaka front, unless you consider Ibaka’s tease tweet showing him on a private jet and asking his followers where they thought he was going.
VanVleet remains a strong candidate to return, given the team’s desire to keep him and their knowledge of what it will take financially. Ibaka has lots of suitors, but it’s unlikely any can offer as much money as the Raptors can on a one-year deal. That said, he could opt to take less to play with a more sure-fire contender.
As for the deals that did leak, there were a few of interest.
The Atlanta Hawks shelled out more than $60-million for three years of the sweet stroke of forward Danilo Gallinari.
Dwight Howard intially appeared to have re-signed in Los Angeles with the Lakers, but wound up signing in Philadelphia with the Sixers and new head coach Doc Rivers on a one-year deal.
With Howard leaving the Lakers stunningly swiped reigning sixth man of the year Montrezl Harrell from the rival Clippers.
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